Detroit Red Wings: Healthy and Angry Now, So the West Beware

Greg Eno@@GregEnoSenior Analyst IMarch 8, 2010

CHICAGO - MARCH 07: (L-R) Drew Miller #20, Brett Lebda #22, Valtteri Filppula #51 and Todd Bertuzzi #44 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate a second period goal against Cristobal Huet #39 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on March 7, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

No one knows where the Red Wings will finish in the conference standings, but I can assure you that it will be in the top eight, albeit in the bottom half of those eight.

Which means one of the upper seeds will draw them in the first round of the playoffs.

May the hockey gods have mercy on that poor team’s soul.

Enough fooling around now. All you other teams in the Western Conference, you’ve had your fun. You picked on the Red Wings when they had one hockey gloved hand tied behind their backs. But now they’ve broken free from their shackles and you’d all better run.

The Red Wings blitzed the mighty (for now) Chicago Blackhawks with a five-goal second period on Sunday in the Windy City, and they made it look ridiculously easy.

This is the Red Wings team that started the season, pretty much, but not the one that played together between games three and 60. Injuries made sure of that.

But this group of 18 skaters, plus surprise rookie goalie Jimmy Howard, is the team that all those Western foes have been fortunate enough to avoid.

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Until now.

“We’re not where we want to be in the standings, but until we don’t make it back (to the Stanley Cup Finals), then yeah, we’re the team to beat,” defenseman Brian Rafalski said after yesterday’s 5-4 win over the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks pretty much agreed.

“They’re still the team to beat in the West, I don’t care what anyone says. They have the lineup to do it,” said Chicago forward Andrew Ladd.

And this, from coach Joel Quenneville: “They got so many weapons, so many guys with patience and skill and speed. They’re very adept at turning something offensively against you the other way.”

The Red Wings’ explosion on Sunday was part shoddy goaltending, part opportunism, part raw skill. All facets of the Red Wings’ brilliance were represented in the five-goal outburst.

You like your defensemen scoring? Rafalski and Lidstrom tallied with long-range slap shots.

You prefer hard work and driving to the net rewarded? Check out Jason Williams’ goal after a perfect pass from Henrik Zetterberg.

You like to see soft hands? I give you goals by Valtteri Filppula and the dazzling Pavel Datsyuk, who was so alone on his breakaway that he looked over his shoulder, saw no one within the same area code, and had time to select from one of his hundreds of moves, discard some, and re-consider others before settling on a slick, clean, backhand through the five-hole of backup goalie Antti Niemi.

And still there was no Blackhawk near Datsyuk.

All this after the Red Wings fell into an 0-2 hole in the first period to a Chicago team that is battling for the first seed in the West.

The scary thing for everyone else is that the Red Wings scored their five goals with that apparent lack of effort that has been their calling card, but which has been missing for the most part until after the Olympic break. The now-healthy Red Wings are 3-1 since the Winter Games.

When they’re at their best with puck possession and passing, the Red Wings can drop multiple goals on you in a hurry. They can run goalies like Huet out of the building. And they won’t be a fun team to play when those best-of-seven soirees get going next month.

“Last time we played Chicago we outplayed them badly and they beat us (4-3 in a shootout on Jan. 17),” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after Sunday’s game. “They know, and so do we. The good teams in the league are hoping we don’t get into the seventh or eighth (playoff) spot.”

Good teams like Chicago and San Jose, who are likely to be the top two seeds in the West. The Red Wings schooled the Blackhawks in the conference finals last year, and the Sharks have had a devil of a time with the Red Wings as of late, whether the Detroiters have been healthy or not.

You think either of those clubs wants a piece of the Red Wings coming out of the playoff gate?

The Red Wings played a stinker last Wednesday at home against Vancouver, and it pissed them off. They took it out on the Nashville Predators on Friday, and got their dander up Sunday after the Blackhawks dared to take a 2-0 lead.

The Red Wings are like David Banner/The Incredible Hulk now.

“Don’t make me angry,” Bill Bixby/Banner used to say on TV. “You won’t like me when I’m angry.”

The Red Wings are healthy, mad, and chomping at the bit. They’re loaded for bear.

Or Blackhawk, or Shark, or anything else ya got.


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